Group Read Number 6: The Amazing Story Of The Man Who Cycled From India To Europe For Love by Per J Andersson

 

 

Time for a new group read – number 6 – and once again we have a brand new reading set supplied by ONEWORLD Publications – so a big thank you to them. The Amazing Story Of The Man Who Cycled From India To Europe For love by Per J Andersson.

The story begins in a public square in New Delhi. On a cold December evening a young European woman of noble descent appears before an Indian street artist known locally as PK and asks him to paint her portrait – it is an encounter that will change their lives irrevocably.

PK was not born in the city. he grew up in a small remote village on the edge of the jungle in East India, and his childhood as an untouchable was one of crushing hardship. He was forces to sit outside the classroom during school, would watch classmates wash themselves if they came into contact with him, and had stones thrown at him when he approached the village temple. According to the priests, PK dirtied everything that was pure and holy. But had PK not been an untouchable, his life would have turned out very differently.

This is the remarkable true story of how love and courage led PK to overcome extreme poverty, caste prejudice and adversity – as well as a 7,000 mile, adventure filled journey across continents and cultures – to be with the woman he loved.

If you aren’t lucky enough to be able to borrow one of the set, keep an eye on the library catalogue as one has been ordered for stock. As usual these pages are never deleted or archived so anyone can read and add their own comments at any point using the comments box below. Once you have added a comment a box appears asking you to indicate if you would like to be notified of responses; this is a great way to feel part of the conversation. This is a review submitted by e-mail:

THE AMAZING STORY OF THE MAN WHO CYCLED FROM INDIA TO EUROPE FOR LOVE:-
I am really glad that I had the opportunity to read this book as I had read an article about it in my weekend newspaper.  It is a fascinating true story.  It is simply written, a bit like a long essay but very readable and a page turner. The protagonist of the book P.K. was born an untouchable and he fights all his life for the rights of the untouchables. It beggars belief that through no fault of their own, people are condemned to be less worthy than others and through their own efforts cannot redress this balance. I found this thread through the book incredibly interesting and sad.
P.K. receives a prophesy at birth and when things don’t go well, for him, he clings to the fact that this prophesy will come true. It is not giving anything away to say that he meets a tourist from Sweden, they fall in love and he cycles halfway across the world to be with her. When he arrives in Sweden, P.K. has a difficult time adjusting to his new life and learning the language. I found his story to be inspirational and amazing.
Naomi (Richardson)

 

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33 thoughts on “Group Read Number 6: The Amazing Story Of The Man Who Cycled From India To Europe For Love by Per J Andersson

  1. What a colourful, beautiful, eye opening read!
    PK’s boyhood was described so clearly I could see myself in India alongside him, smell the spices, the flowers & the dust. I also learnt a lot more about the caste system; I found it really sad, especially as PK was so confused by it all. He really went through a struggle to find himself; he faced starvation when he could no longer afford his art college fees but was always given strength by the thought of his prophesied future with his wife-to-be from the other side of the world.
    Gorgeous writing, but at the same time very accessible, it’s a nice easy read & a definite feel-good story.

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  2. I really enjoyed this book. It takes a very calm and measured approach to examining what have been difficult and shocking periods in PK’s life. I am much more informed about the caste system and I feel I have learned a lot without being bamboozled! I agree that the style of writing is really accessible and I love the fact that there are a lot of photographs of the people in PK’s life. I highly recommend this title.

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  3. This comment was submitted via email. Thanks Jackie for submitting your thoughts.

    PK had every circumstance against him when he was born into such a poor family and part of the untouchable caste. Growing up he had to endure being treated badly, at school he was made to sit outside the classroom away from the other children and another time was pelted with stones if he dared to go near a temple.
    This would have broken most people’s spirit but he believed in the local astrologer’s prophecy that was told when he was born.
    He had a talent for drawing from a young age and through this, he was able to attend an art college in Delhi. He became an artist and began to sketch people’s portraits. One day he fell in love with one of his subjects and the story began.
    This man overcame extreme poverty and difficult situations and found his soul mate.
    Such a remarkable book, which almost seems like a fairy tale but is a true story that captures your heart.

    Jackie Taylor

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  4. Wow! a must read. It has everything you want in a book easy to read ,interesting (allowing us a glimpse into Indian culture especially the caste system which I for one find hard to understand). It was also good to read about the kindness of the people he met on his long and arduous journey.The story moved along well making me not want to put it down wanting to find out what would happen next to PK who is lovable extremely brave (some would and in fact did say he was foolish). This book proves how powerful love is. I hope lots of people pick this book off the library shelves and enjoy this lovely true story.

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  5. I LOVED this book. I generally prefer fiction, to books based on true life as like to be transported away from reality, however this book did just that. The story of PK’s childhood was so descriptive that I felt I was in the village with him. The references to the caste system and the attitude of the Brahmins were beautifully told without bitterness. I think that is what carries throughout the book; PK faces terrible difficulties and hardships, yet his attitude and niceness means that he ultimately succeeds (maybe this is Karma?). I also liked that the book was about PK, but little snippets of Lotta were put in throughout which meant that we knew a little about her and her background.
    I love it when you have pictures in a book, but liked that they were put at the back on normal pages. This meant that I wasn’t expecting them so I could read this as a book of fiction and imagine the characters how I thought they should look and then at the end see how they really looked.
    In summary a feel good book that will leave you with a smile on your face and a little glow in your heart.

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  6. Loved this book and would definitely recommend it. A true life story that proves that love does conquer all. I particularly found the details of PK’s early life fascinating.

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  7. I enjoyed this book. The title says it all, it is definitely amazing that PK travelled from India to Europe on his bike for the woman he loves and also for a new life. I knew nothing of the caste system until I read this book and can understand why Mahatma Ghandi had tried to get the caste system stopped and for all Indian people to be treated as equals. Unfortunately the caste system still prevails to this day. As PK said himself the Cast system is a serious disease. I loved the description of the jungle life PK had as a child with his family but was saddened by the ill treatment he received especially from his teacher and to be told that you cannot enter the classroom and that no one is allowed to play with you must have been soul destroying. PK showed is strength of character every time his was knocked back he fought back, not with aggression but with his love of art and his calm nature. Now he has a life in Sweden with his own family and although he has come up against racism in Sweden he feels he is not an untouchable but an equal. Worth a read

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  8. A very enjoyable read. I loved learning about the Indian culture, and I for one would love to travel the world and I could do this with PK on his way to Sweden. A very thought provoking and inspirational story of a man who overcame so much, and shows that if you have determination, patience, courage and in PK’s view a belief in something out of our control you can achieve.

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  9. Ever a sucker for a ‘love conquers all’ story, this book also appealed to my interest in travel, art and a love of Asia. The early life of PK in the forest and living as an ‘untouchable’ within India was a life so far away from everything I have experienced that I had to often remind myself that this was a real experience from a real man. I found the humanity and nature of people both heartbreaking and heart warming throughout. The intimate recount of living as an ‘untouchable’ wrenches at your heart and stirs anger at a system that seems too ridiculous and cruel to uphold. It brings up insecurities and anger at current political systems all over the world and raises the age old questions as to why such huge divides in wealth and class based on birthright and skin colour can and do still exist. On the flip side, the journey enriches your knowledge of the time, the hippy trail and the dogma it lived and breathed. It celebrated people that see past borders, birthrights and self interest who instead want to learn about others, take care of each other and see what the planet and people on it are able to do. I loved the continuous reminder of how art can transcend language and background and bring people closer, and how perseverance can be incredibly breaking but ultimately transformative in almost immeasurable amounts. His childhood and the rituals of his mother bring nature and how out of touch we are with it to the fore, and opens a window into an existence so humble, simple, indescribably hard and often forgotten.

    My overwhelming feeling from this book was the overly romanticised longing for a time long gone, a time of scribbled scraps of paper on notice boards, of journeys taking weeks and months, of smoky cafes and places unknown. Where Europe had a million different currencies and the East seemed to hold a million mysteries. A time without wifi, airbnb and googlemaps but instead a reliance on the humanity in others and a deep belief in letting yourself get lost.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your observations and the ‘journey’ you have obviously taken while reading this book. I’m sure your comments will help a lot of other readers find their way to this title. Many thanks, The Reader Development Team.

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  10. What a fascinating story! I have to confess that I probably would not have chosen this book myself, and is a classic example of never judging a book by its cover. Once I found my way past the garish colours and hand-lettering I became gripped by the story of PK, who used his artistic talent as a means of escaping the cruelty and trauma of his early life, and his unwavering conviction that one day he would be reunited with the woman of his dreams. It also made me nostalgic for the days when communication wasn’t quite so instant, conveying the anticipation of waiting for a letter or crackly phone call from a loved one. You were on tenterhooks almost until the very end of the book, as there were a couple of occasions where you thought he wasn’t going to make it, but – amazingly – he did.

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    1. Thanks ever so much Helen for reading along with the group. It is always nice when we are pleasantly surprised by a book that didn’t impress immediately on picking it up. Great comments. The Reader Development Team

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  11. I was really looking forward to starting this book – the title and the cover promised an exciting read – and it was recommended by Nic. But by halfway through the protagonist, PK, had not even met the woman for love of whom I assume he was to cycle across continents, and I had long since lost interest. I imagine it is an amazing story, and apparently true, but so poorly written and structured that my curiosity ran out. Sorry!
    If you’re going to cram a whole lifetime into a book of this length, it will of necessity be superficial. So starting with PK’s earliest memories is a mistake, in my view. I’ve read 128 pages and it feels like an introduction, a skim across twenty-odd fairly uninteresting years – or perhaps just uninterestingly portrayed – before the real story begins. There is so little sense of place, despite such a colourful setting, and so little emotion. The main character has no character. The only things PK seems to feel is love of his mother (though he didn’t even attend her funeral) and resentment at his treatment as an untouchable. He and 201 million others in India! I don’t wish to belittle the suffering of the Dalits, but it is hardly an unusual story and this tale brings nothing new to the issue.
    The style is simple. I wish I could say refreshingly naïve, but in truth it is painfully flat. ‘This happened to PK, then that happened, then the other. This person was mean to him, and that one, and …’ I see the author is a journalist – perhaps that explains it, too bound up in fact. There is no drama – even scenes that should be riveting, such as suicide attempts, are just dull, sequential accounts. And the events are repetitive.
    As a portrayal of life under Indira Gandhi’s ‘emergency’, the book has some interest, but much more is revealed in A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, a really engaging read. By comparison, this is impersonal and heavy-handed.

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  12. This is an extraordinary tale, made all the more so by the fact that it’s true and has the potential to be a great story but unfortunately I have to say I was disappointed.
    Our protagonist PK is born with a prophecy that he will marry a woman from far away and as he grows older this becomes the driving force that keeps him going for he faces many difficulties throughout his life. Being born in a remote village on the outskirts of a jungle as an untouchable,the lowest status in India’s caste system, he deals with hardships, prejudice, poverty, depression and suicidal thoughts. He is a naturally talented artist and it’s this that turns his luck around whenever he’s in a rut.
    Despite the title though, the book concentrates mainly on his life in India, the actual journey feels rushed through towards the latter half of the book. Also the writing style feels abrupt, it lacks a continuous flow and tends to jump around from different periods of his life which can be confusing. There just seems to be a lack of enthusiasm from the storyteller, instead of being full of rich and colourful descriptive language, it’s well, dull.
    I would give this 3 out of 5 stars.

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  13. When I first heard that this was to be the next group read my comment was it seems a bit sentimental for me but I look forward to being proved wrong. So was I? Well, no, not really, in fact it’s not sentimental enough.
    At heart this is an amazing real life story of success against the odds, which shouldn’t fail to be interesting and attention grabbing, but the flat, faux naif style manages to turn an epic journey and love story into a foot slog through a boring bog. I could be kind and blame this on translation issues but suspect the problem lies deeper; the author has all the facts and no grasp of how to convey emotion and make me feel and care. It’s a drama documentary with the sound turned off and the focus in need of adjustment.

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      1. Overall I was quite disappointed with this book. I enjoyed the early paragraphs, both the descriptive content and the writing style. I was living his early years in his jungle viallage feeling his sadness and his alienation as an untouchable unaware that the caste system was so devisive and uncaring. Leaning more about Indian culture was a plus especially the trials and tribulations he encountered as a student. For me the recounting of his time on the streets was extremely dull and soulless especially his attempts at suicide. There was no emotion or anger just boredom. I felt that so much more could have been made of his meetings with various prime ministers and dignatories. His art although acknowledged was given less credence than expected given that he was singled out for special treatment.
        However my real disappointment was the low key telling of the raison d’être of the book ‘the love story’. Why did he fall in love with Lotta? We know of the prophecy but what set Lotta apart? I would also have been interested in her initial reaction to PK. The bike ride itself with few exceptions was again boring and uninspiring. We knew the outcome was a success so surely the telling of the journey could have been more exciting and dramatic.

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  14. Like the previous commentator I thought this was going to be too sentimental a read for my taste but how wrong I was! There are some lovely heart warming moments but also some really gut wrenching, horrid, incidents. The style of narration is endearing without being too saccharine and I soon became fascinated with the various intertwining journeys taken by the characters. A much more enjoyable read than expected!

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  15. I found the story enjoyable and uplifting. P.K. had to overcome so many obstacles and it was touching and humbling to read about his life. His early years were fascinating and I thought the descriptive writing in this part of the story was good. Sadly other parts of the book lacked detail I felt. His journey through life showed the cruelest and kindest side of humanity. It was interesting to hear about the old Hippy Trail and catch a glimpse of life in Countries such as Afghanistan at that time. Throughout the story, despite moments of great despair, P.K.’s simple belief in his destiny gave him the strength to continue, his artistic talent coming to his aid on so many occasions. It is amazing that against all the odds, he found love and happiness with Lottie. Definitely a triumph of love over adversity. It was lovely to see the photo album which added to the pleasure of reading the book.

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  16. Kay Green U3A Reading Group, Read No 6 – The Man who cycled from India to Europe for Love.

    When I first heard the title of this I thought the book might be a bit dry but right from the first page I was drawn in. The story is woven beautifully into the the folk lore and cultural history of India and captivated me from the very beginning. It was like an adult fairy tale, which moved seamlessly through his life and painted a real picture of India, its history and the injustice of the caste system. I was surprised to be nearly two thirds of the way through the book before he even got on his bike. The Journey was just as interesting contrasting the various cultures of the countries he travelled through and the kindness of some of the people he met along the way. A beautiful read.

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  17. Kay Green for Lynne Sidey -Bury U3A Reading Group

    Lynne writes “I enjoyed this book very much. What an incredible true story of life’s journey, full of adventure, friendship, kindness and luck, but most of all love. It was an insight into India;s caste system, prejudice and culture.”

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  18. This comment was submitted by Joyce from Bury Readers’ Group.

    This is the true story of a Hindu ‘untouchable’ dalit born into poverty in a remote Indian village circa 1950. He is known as PK (initials from an overlong name).
    The omen of the ‘holy’ cobra which protected him in his cot and the prophecy of his marriage to a woman of a different race are significant in terms of life changing potential.
    In childhood, he gradually realises what it means to be an ‘untouchable’ as he experiences bewilderment, humiliation and isolation – blighting his early years in his mother’s care. Later his artistic talent takes him to New Delhi but he drops out of college, lacking funding and nearly starving, forced to live rough. He is saved from suicide by thoughts of the prophecy and a new friend, Narenda.
    He returns to art school and sketching brings him commissions and contact with his wife to be. ‘Marriage’ to Lotta, the love of his life and her return to Sweden lead to his decision to cycle a mammoth 7000 miles from New Dehli to Borås in Sweden. His trust in fate, naivety and friendliness are endearing – enabling him to reciprocally engage help along the way and make it in spite of encountering navigation, financial, cultural language difficulties and problems crossing borders.
    His triumphs are inspirational. In PK’s case love found a way. In one sense this is a touching romantic story and in another something of a psychological philosophical anthropological study.
    This was an interesting, enlightening and ultimately uplifting read. The photo album was a welcome addition as was the sketched map inside the covers – a useful reference for the reader.

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